Cauliflower shawarma is the vegetarian approach to the irresistible, hugely popular Middle Eastern street food called shawarma. You can make this incredible vegetarian dish in your oven or on your grill. Either way you cook it, it's likely to become a summer favorite!
WHAT IS SHAWARMA?
Shawarma is [usually] a meat-centric dish of beef, lamb or chicken cooked on a rotisserie, sometimes grilled, shaved onto a plate or stuffed into a wrap and served with a variety of accompaniments such as tahini, hummus, herbs and cucumbers.
I was blown away when I first encountered cauliflower shawarma at a London restaurant a few blocks from my flat. The Berber & Q Shawarma Bar is one of those places that you want to go back to again and again to eat the same exact thing because it's THAT good!
Intensely flavorful smoky cumin-scented grilled meats, vegetables and dips are served with technicolor toppings, delicious drizzles of tahini, pomegranate molasses, olive oil and lemon, sprinkles of pomegranate seeds, spices and fresh herbs. Their signature dish and the one that I have come to adore the most is their Cauliflower Shawarma. The recipe is in their cookbook Berber & Q.
I've made cauliflower shawarma many times over the summer, testing and retesting the recipe and inviting my family and friends to weigh in.
The first couple of times I made it exactly as the cookbook suggested, coating a whole cauliflower with shawarma-spiced butter and grilling it.
It's visually gorgeous cooked this way, big and bold and dripping with tahini sauce, like frosting on a cake. But my taste testers and I felt that all the great flavor was on the outside only. We all wanted more delicious shawarma flavor throughout.
After lots of trial and error, my favorite way to make this dish is to slice the cauliflower into thick steaks before hmearing it with shawarma-spiced butter and finishing on the grill or in the oven. This version got all thumbs up from my testers.
HOW TO MAKE CAULIFLOWER SHAWARMA
I'll explain the pros and cons of making it in the grill vs in the oven
- The first step is to boil a whole cauliflower for about 7 minutes. The goal here is to pre-cook the cauliflower to the point where it can be sliced and seasoned and only needs a few minutes of final cooking in the oven or on the grill.
- The way you get all the great flavor into the cauliflower is by coating it in shawarma spiced butter. This delicious spiced butter consists of softened butter mixed with cinnamon, sumac, cumin, allspice, fresh garlic, salt and a pinch each of nutmeg and cardamom.
- Once you pre-cook the cauliflower, slice it and coat it with shawarma spiced butter.
- Now it's time to cook the cauliflower shawarma with high heat, to toast and blacken the spices. I tested this recipe in the oven and on the barbecue. The oven method is a bit easier to control because the cauliflower sits on a baking sheet. With the grill you have to be a bit careful or risk losing a stray cauliflower floret or two through the grates. But both methods worked well, yielding delicious results.
Oil a rimmed baking sheet and arrange the cauliflower steaks on top. Brush the steaks generously on one side with the shawarma spiced butter and pop the baking sheet in the oven close to the grill/broiler element.
Cook for a few minutes until the spices start to blacken. Flip. Brush the other side with spiced butter and continue to cook for a few minutes longer, until the cauliflower shawarma is golden brown, blackened in spots, and heated through.
Transfer the cauliflower steaks to a hot grill, spiced-side down.
Brush the tops generously with spiced butter and grill for a few minutes on each side until golden brown and blackened in spots.
Cauliflower shawarma is best served hot.
Top the shawarma with drizzles of lemony tahini sauce and sprinkles of toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and parsley. A drizzle of pomegranate molasses and olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice is good too.
- The spiced butter and tahini sauce can be made up to one week ahead of time.
- You can pre cook the cauliflower several hours ahead.
- Bring the butter and cauliflower to room temperature and proceed with slicing, spicing and finishing on the barbecue or in the oven.
At Berber & Q they serve cauliflower shawarma in a bowl or in a wrap. I usually order the cauliflower shawarma bowl which comes with tahini sauce and toppings plus chopped tomatoes, fresh herbs, Middle Eastern Mejaderah rice with lentils, and a boiled egg.
This Mediterranean chickpea salad would be delicious with cauliflower shawarma. Other delicious sides with this dish are Baba Ganoush, hummus Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad, or this Mediterranean Rice Salad. And here's a delicious Chicken Shawarma recipe, in case you're interested.
Here's the recipe for cauliflower shawarma. If you try this recipe I hope you'll come back to leave a rating and a comment. I'd love to know what you think.